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Businesses EU The Courts Games

Valve and Game Publishers Face EU Probe For Geo-Blocking; ASUS Faces Probe For Online Price-Fixing (betanews.com) 74

Valve, the company behind games distribution platform Steam, is being investigated by EU antitrust regulators. Agreements in place between Valve and five game publishers that implement geo-blocking in titles could breach European competition rules. From a BetaNews report: Valve, alongside Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax, is under investigation to determine whether the practice of restricting access to games and prices based on location is legal. At the same time the European Commission is launching an investigation into ASUS, Denon & Marantz, Philips and Pioneer for price manipulation. The investigation into the four electronics manufacturers centers around the fact that the companies restricted the ability of online retailers to set their own pricing for goods.
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Valve and Game Publishers Face EU Probe For Geo-Blocking; ASUS Faces Probe For Online Price-Fixing

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  • by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Thursday February 02, 2017 @11:29AM (#53788171) Homepage

    They will run into issues where Steam is working around various censorship laws in specific European countries. Hopefully they can get away with just removing restrictions of the stores without having to have it comply with being local stores in each county.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 02, 2017 @11:35AM (#53788197)

      Steam is working around issues where they sell games for next to nothing in dirt poor countries because some money is better than no money. Their troubles are reseller sites buying thousands of copies in Russia or whatever and reselling them to the west. Still half price for the westerner, shady middle man gets 14$ total profit and steam gets a buck instead of 60.

      They give no shits about censorship outside of what they legally need to comply with.

      • Steam is working around issues where they sell games for next to nothing in dirt poor countries because some money is better than no money. Their troubles are reseller sites buying thousands of copies in Russia or whatever and reselling them to the west. Still half price for the westerner, shady middle man gets 14$ total profit and steam gets a buck instead of 60.

        I guess that's "free market" for you -- and them. Except for the fact that the first to praise it are the very first to work against it when it hurts their bottom line. Talk about double standards...

        RT.

      • Still half price for the westerner, shady middle man gets 14$ total profit and steam gets a buck instead of 60.

        Steam doesn't get $60 bucks in any event; they have to pass on the bulk of the collected monies to the publisher and developer of the game. Steam is just as much a middle-man as the guy reselling the serial numbers (and, as anyone who has ever had to deal with their customer service, are only slightly less shady ;-).

        Steam reportedly gets a 30% cut from sales (so about $18 dollars of that $60 goes

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Brick and mortar retail runs at a margin of between 60% to 80%. The might make a profit of 10% to 15% but that most definitely is not their markup. Price fixing in most countries is a criminal offence and geo-pricing is price fixing, yeah, steam and a bunch of others will pay. Steam will likely be able to fob most of the penalty off to the publishers and long as they turn them over and prove steam was forced into it. Publishers will take a bath on this one, wont pay taxes one way, you will be forced to pay

          • Brick and mortar retail runs at a margin of between 60% to 80%

            A new game can cost the store about $40-50, depending on the game's popularity, number of pre-sales, etc. That's about 10-15% of the $60 price. The stores used to demand a larger cut - about 20% - but their clout - and thus ability to demand lower prices from the publishers - decreased as digital marketplaces started offering them competition; the brick-n-motor storefronts had to compete by cutting their take so publishers would still deal with

          • So, why has the EU never gone after the movie industry? How is this in any way different than their geolocking and price adjustments to markets?

    • It will also be interesting to see how the EU feels when their tax revenue dries up because people buy games from outside the EU to avoid the VAT.

      • by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples&gmail,com> on Thursday February 02, 2017 @12:07PM (#53788411) Homepage Journal

        Citizens of EU member states still owe use tax when buying services from outside the EU. Unfortunately, the EU's page about this [europa.eu] doesn't mention how citizens are supposed to pay VAT for imported services.

        • Obviously this means that companies outside the EU have to collect VAT on all transactions in case the person might be from the EU.

          You know, for "consumer protection".

        • Citizens of EU member states still owe use tax when buying services from outside the EU. Unfortunately, the EU's page about this [europa.eu] doesn't mention how citizens are supposed to pay VAT for imported services.

          It gets added when caught in customs and then have a 100€ fine added on top for not declaring the import the regular way. This is particularly easy if the shipping is insured (which it always is from legitimate sources), because then they have the sum it is insured for printed on the outside.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          There are allowances up to a certain value, where you don't have to pay VAT. Beyond that you are supposed to self report but unless you are buying quite large quantities every month the tax authority is unlikely to notice.

        • by eionmac ( 949755 )

          Very easy. If a business you charge yourself the sales tax/VAT by a reverse charge mechanism in your MONTHLY VAT submittals, if you are a private person the sales tax/VAT is collected by the seller. It works well. i do this often both as a private person and as a business official.

          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            if you are a private person the sales tax/VAT is collected by the seller.

            How does the EU get a seller with no assets in the EU to collect EU VAT?

      • It will also be interesting to see how the EU feels when their tax revenue dries up because people buy games from outside the EU to avoid the VAT.

        Why would that escape VAT? You still have to pay VAT on imports.. Internet shopping is some random tax avoidance loop-hole like in the US.

    • by jonwil ( 467024 )

      I cant see how Steam or ZeniMax can comply with laws in the EU banning geoblocking while still complying with laws in Germany banning things like the uncensored version of the new Wolfenstein game...

  • Movies? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Scarred Intellect ( 1648867 ) on Thursday February 02, 2017 @11:35AM (#53788191) Homepage Journal
    From TFA:

    Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said: "E-commerce should give consumers a wider choice of goods and services, as well as the opportunity to make purchases across borders. The three investigations we have opened today focus on practices where we suspect companies are trying to deny these benefits for consumers."

    So the MPAA, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, et al. can geoblock, but video game publishers/distributors can't?

    I suppose that makes sense. Or something.

    • Re:Movies? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Orphis ( 1356561 ) on Thursday February 02, 2017 @11:43AM (#53788241)

      Or Sony and Apple too, for which their application store is geoblocked.

      In an age where people move freely in Europe, your account for those is locked to one country and you can't really change it easily.

      My French PSN account subscription couldn't be renewed using my Swedish credit card. I managed to find a proper online video game store that would just sell serial codes for the PSN and accept my Swedish credit card. I effectively worked around their limitations, but it was very annoying.

      And then, my French Apple account could be "moved" to Sweden, but I would have to "buy" everything again (then it would discover I already had a license for some content and not bill me). That's not ok either, as some apps where actually different versions and it did bill me for some. I paid twice for the same thing because of virtual borders online within EU.

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        And then, my French Apple account could be "moved" to Sweden, but I would have to "buy" everything again (then it would discover I already had a license for some content and not bill me). That's not ok either, as some apps where actually different versions and it did bill me for some. I paid twice for the same thing because of virtual borders online within EU.

        That's an app developer thing. Apple allows app developers to limit the distribution of their apps, but by default Apple will sell your app to everyon

        • "That's an app developer thing"

          Then the app developer is breaking the law and can be sued. You can't restrict sales of one version to one country in the EU, even if it's customised for that country.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm with you in sentiment (hate those geoblocked videos) but that's a bit of a flawed argument. No matter who faces a probe first, you could always point to all the others and say "why this one but not those?". You always have to start somewhere. Hopefully if they hit this bullseye the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate.

      • Hopefully if they hit this bullseye the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards.

        Does this mean Netflix is next?

      • > you could always point to all the others and say "why this one but not those?".

        "Thank you for pointing those out. We're now taking action against them too."

    • Re:Movies? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Thursday February 02, 2017 @12:28PM (#53788535) Homepage

      From TFA:

      Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said: "E-commerce should give consumers a wider choice of goods and services, as well as the opportunity to make purchases across borders. The three investigations we have opened today focus on practices where we suspect companies are trying to deny these benefits for consumers."

      So the MPAA, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, et al. can geoblock, but video game publishers/distributors can't?

      I suppose that makes sense. Or something.

      No they are also targeting that, and have been for a long time. They are extending the fight against geoblocking to not just include movies, but also include games. Does that make more sense to you?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      As much as I fucking hate the EU, I really hope this goes full-on court and such.

      I WANT geolocked shit to die, hard.
      Geolocked content is ANTI-content. It's like they don't want MONEY or something.
      A large percentage of piracy is people pissed off with time-delayed or region-restricted content that they simply CANNOT buy even if they wanted to.
      Get rid of that stupid physical limit since it doesn't make sense in the world of the internet, suddenly mega money.
      World-wide releases are 100% possible now. There i

      • Re:Movies? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples&gmail,com> on Thursday February 02, 2017 @12:50PM (#53788689) Homepage Journal

        World-wide releases are 100% possible now. There isn't a ridiculous overhead cost to doing it like there is with physical media.

        There is still an overhead cost for two reasons:

        1. Language barriers. To make something practically exclusive to Japan, require fluency in the Japanese language for its use, and use technical and legal means to block fans from making and using infringing fan translations.
        2. Countries still don't trust other countries' age rating boards.

        • This exactly, and often, the localization is done by a small company in your country that licenses the rights for a big fraction of their operating costs. Their entire business model hinges on blocking access to that content for that country except through them. Geoblocking is really a problem internal to your country. If you want geoblocking to go away, force all the EU states (or other countries where you happen to reside) to accept the US rating system and English as the primary language and then forc

        • by tsotha ( 720379 )
          You can release something without localizing it. I don't see the harm in saying "The game comes out on such and such a date, and will be available to everyone. The Japanese version will be available on this other, later date."
        • by Luthair ( 847766 )
          2 - ratings boards are mostly optional, especially if you aren't going to sell them in stores.
      • It's trivial to put together a data center compared to millions of stores requesting and being sent discs and so on.

        And even more trivial to use the services of an existing CDN.

        There's no excuse for slow downloads from digital storefronts.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      To be fair to Netflix, while they geo-block programmes they don't limit accounts to one area. I've used an account registered in the UK while I'm in Japan and it works fine. You get the Japanese selection of shows. I don't know if that would be enough to satisfy the EU... They allow the service to roam with the user, but the nature of the service changes depending on location.

      • by keltor ( 99721 ) *
        They began to lock that down this last year,
      • To be fair to Netflix, while they geo-block programmes they don't limit accounts to one area. I've used an account registered in the UK while I'm in Japan and it works fine. You get the Japanese selection of shows. I don't know if that would be enough to satisfy the EU... They allow the service to roam with the user, but the nature of the service changes depending on location.

        For me it is locked to where I registered, both store and content. I have tried getting it to accept where I physically are, or even where my credit cards are from, but Valve are quite stubborn in letting you change region and will block your account it you try buying from the wrong store (which you can by manually changing URL to national override ones).

    • The audio-visual media is exempted. Supposedly because of the problem of publicly funded national TV. This is mostly an excuse, a targeted exception could be carved out for this. The media simply has a far better lobbying apparatus behind it, partly because of it's importance as a propaganda device.

      Despite the huge amount of money concerned in video games they lack good lobbying.

  • How is this any different from region-encoding on DVDs?

    I mean i think its bullshit and unethical that you can buy something then find out later that it doesnt even work somewhere else, but it seems that its already actually not illegal.

    • I'd be more concerned about region encoding on DVD players. DVDs without region encoding can always be the ones sold in the market with the highest price. So, outlawing region encoded DVDs will always make DVDs more expensive, which people won't want to do. DVD ripping software that removes the region encoding bypasses the problem of region encoded players.
      • Actually it should make DVD's cheaper for me. The US doesn't have the highest DVD prices by region.

        • My suggestion was that non region encoded DVDs would sell at the price of the region with the highest price, not necessarily that they would sell at the US price. If you want them cheaper, why not import them from the region with the cheapest price and rip them?
          • Why would I rip them? Multi-region DVD player are legal here and it is illegal for publisher to disable playing DVD's on such players. Private parallel importation is legal. It the imported goods are over a threshold value you duty on them. Commercial parallel importation is illegal.

            • If you prefer a multi-region player, that works. The law making it illegal for the publisher to disable playing DVDs on such players won't apply to DVDs you import from another region unless the publisher is domestic. My instinct towards ripping them is because when I see movies on local media, most frequently I see them played from the collection someone has on a mulit-terabyte external hard drive.
  • Gasoline prices are set by large companies according to what every neighborhood can bear. Funny how that is not illegal as well.
    • But the gasoline basically works in every car in the world regardless of where the car was sold or where the car is registered or where the owner lives. If you want you can buy thousands of litres and import it from anywhere in the world and use it.

  • Valve can't keep the russians and peruvians off the north american dota servers.
  • About time.

    When I had a blackberry smartphone, all the data was routed through Canada. If I visited the Steam Store, I could find a game at a certain price, add it to my basket at which point I was promoted to log in, and the price would magically change (typically going up for an Australian-registered Paypal/Credit Card).

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